“GIRLS ABOUT TOWN” (1931) Review
When he first arrived in Hollywood in 1929, New York stage director George Cukor served as a dialogue coach at Paramount Pictures and occasionally, at other studios like Universal. Then in 1930, he co-directed three movies, two of them with Cyril Gardner. He had to wait a year later to serve as sole director for his first two movies. One of them turned out to be the 1931 comedy called “GIRLS ABOUT TOWN”.
Written by Zoe Akins, Raymond Griffith, and Brian Marlow; “GIRLS ABOUT TOWN” is about two gold diggers named Wanda Howard and Marie Bailey who entertain stody, but wealthy Midwestern businessmen visiting Manhattan. However, Wanda has tired of her demeaning lifestyle until she meets the handsome Jim Baker during a yacht party. Also on board is Jim’s friend, stingy tycoon Benjamin Thomas, who is the richest man in Lansing, Michigan. While Marie entertains Benjamin and becomes the victim of his practical jokes, Jim makes his feelings about her and Marie’s racket. However, the pair fall in love when she nearly drowns and Jim rescues her. And when he proposes marriage to her, Wanda makes her feelings clear by ripping up her payment for entertaining him. But an obstacle stand in Wanda and Jim’s path to a happy ending in the form of her shiftless ex-husband Alex, who wants Jim to pay him a hefty sum for a divorce from Wanda.
In the movie’s secondary plot, Marie has become weary of Benjamin’s practical jokes. But she is also determined to swindle him into giving her as much money as possible . . . which proves to be increasingly difficult, due to his tightfisted ways. However, Marie acquires an unexpected ally in the form of Benjamin’s wife, Daisy. The latter is determined to divorce him for his stinginess, despite the fact that she still loves him. The two women, realizing that Benjamin is using his stinginess to string them along, the two women scheme to shame Benjamin into spending more money for them both.
How can I put this? I would not consider “GIRLS ABOUT TOWN” to be a particularly original tale. Or perhaps I simply found predictable – at least the main narrative about Wanda and Jim. Only a blind man would fail to predict how their relationship would unfold, especially when her ex-husband Alex entered the picture. But despite this element of predictability, I must admit that I found Wanda and Jim’s story rather entertaining, thanks to winning performances from Kay Francis and Joel McCrea. Not only did I predict that ex-husband would prove to be an obstacle for Wanda, so did Hattie, the maid that she and Marie shared. Louise Beavers, who portrayed Hattie, had one of the funniest moments in the film when she hysterically spilled out how Alex would prove to be a lot of trouble for Wanda and Jim.
But it was the movie’s subplot involving Marie and the Thomases that proved to be the movie’s pièce de résistance. When Daisy Thomas first visited Marie and Wanda’s apartment, I had no idea on how this story would played out. It was not long before I found myself flabbergasted by the budding friendship between Marie and her sugar daddy’s wife, Daisy. And watching them scam the tightfisted Benjamin into spending cash for both of them made me appreciate how this movie seemed to be a prime example of Hollywood’s Pre-Code era. This subplot also benefited from some hilarious performances from the husky-voiced Lilyan Tashman, Eugene Pallette (another performer known for an unusual voice) and Lucile Gleason.
Overall, “GIRLS ABOUT TOWN” is an entertaining and slightly wicked film, well directed by George Cukor in one of his earlier Hollywood efforts. Mind you, I did not find the movie’s main narrative that particularly original. But the subplot really took me by surprise and in my view, really made the film; along with a fine cast led by Kay Francis, Lilyan Tashman and Joel McCrea.